18 September 2014

(1971)

With Tombs of the Blind Dead (La Noche Del Terror Ciego) and its three subsequent sequels, director Amando de Ossorio, who was born in Portugal in 1925, created a group of creatures to give Romero's living dead a run for their money.

Filmed in Spain and Portugal with a limited budget, the director's zombie "Templar Knights" are an innovative idea in a film brimming with terrifying moments.

Huge crowds are enjoying the sun at a resort pool in Lisbon. Virginia White (Helen Harp) spots her old roommate Betty Turner (Lone Fleming), whom she hasn't seen in some time. The two hug each other and Betty says she's in town for business.

It's apparent that the women were more than friends but Betty doesn't want to dwell on the past. Virginia tells her she is seeing a guy and it's "nothing serious."

Betty updates Virginia on her life, telling her that she makes dummies for store windows. She says it's a skill she learned in Paris. Her shop is near the morgue, which Virginia thinks is quite creepy.

Roger Whelan (Cesar Burner), Virginia's beau, comes out of the pool and is introduced to Betty. He says they should celebrate this reunion and he invites her to join him and Virginia on a trip the next day. Betty is reluctant to be a third wheel but takes him up on his offer.

The next morning at the train station, Betty isn't there at the appointed time. Virginia tells Roger that she probably isn't coming and seems downright relieved. However, Betty arrives and tells them that a "friend" of hers couldn't make it and she won't be going on the trip as well. Roger insists, much to Virginia's annoyance. They board the train and head to their destination.

Virginia makes her displeasure obvious in their compartment. The flirting between her former fling and Roger is too much for her and she goes to the end of the train to get some air. Betty tells Roger they've been inconsiderate but he disagrees (although he clearly has a thing for her).

Betty tries to console Virginia, telling her she's her best friend and confidante. She also asks her to remember their past together.

A flashback shows just how close the two women were and how they experimented when they were younger. In the present, Roger finds them embracing...and an embarrassed Virginia runs away.

She asks the conductor's engineer son (Antonio Orengo) when the next stop is. He tells her there isn't a village for miles and she decides to jump off.

Roger and Betty see this and call out to her...but Virginia has made up her mind. She yells at her traveling companions to have fun. Although Roger pulls the alarm cord, the conductor refuses to stop in that area. He tells his son that the young woman "doesn't know what she's in for."

Carrying her bag, Virginia finds the ruins of an old abandoned monastery. "Is there anyone there?" she asks. The place appears deserted and all she hears is the echo of her own voice.

She decides to settle in for the night. She smokes a cigarette and then lights a fire to keep warm. Virginia gets comfortable in her sleeping bag and starts to read a book while listening to her transistor radio.

Outside, there's movement in the nearby cemetery. The dead begin to slowly rise out of the graves and tombs. Virginia is oblivious as the hooded, skeletal figures make their way towards her on horseback.

Finally hearing something, Virginia gets up and opens a window. She screams when she sees a zombie standing outside. She tries to get away but a group of them have made their way inside.

After getting her shoe stuck in a staircase, Virginia manages to climb to the roof and down the other side, where she jumps onto one of their horses (a zombie horse?) and takes off. The dead won't give up. They catch up to her and pull her off the horse.

Roger and Betty are worried about their friend. At a cafe outside of the Hotel Flores, Roger says that Virginia never returned home. They ask a waitress if there's a village nearby and she informs them there's nothing between that location and Lisbon.

When told that they saw something from the train, the woman says, "You mean Berzano. It's been deserted for over 100 years." Betty suggests that her friend may have stayed there overnight and the waitress drops her tray.

Roger demands to know what the matter is. The waitress reveals that the hotel management doesn't want workers to talk about it and says they're old wives tales that "scare tourists away." Roger and Betty both tell the manager that they want horses to go to Berzano.

Meanwhile, the train conductor and his son discover Virginia's body lying in a field. They decide to let the police deal with it.

Roger and Betty gallop into the ruins of the town on horseback and see no trace of her. They hop off the animals and the frightened horses run away. Roger believes they probably were scared off by a snake. The only way to get back to their hotel is to hitch a ride on the train - if it will stop.

Betty takes note of the medieval cemetery and Roger thinks there's something odd about the place. The inscriptions on the tombstones are in Egyptian and he tells Betty they were used for black arts in witch trials from that period in time.

Betty is unsettled and wants to leave. But Roger says they must first look for Virginia. While searching, they find their friend's personal belongings and realize she must be there somewhere. Her shoe on the staircase to the roof is another clue.

Two men appear and ask Roger and Virginia what they are doing there. Their names are Officer Marcos (Andres Isbert) and Inspector Oliveira (Rufino Ingles) and they know all about the vacationers and where they're staying. When told that Virginia has been murdered, Betty blames herself.

She and Roger are asked to go to the morgue to identify the body. The morgue keeper (Simon Arriaga) is a very strange man, to say the least, and he first shows them the wrong corpse.

When they finally view Virginia's remains, Betty faints. The coroner (Juan Cortes) gives her a glass of water. He tells her, along with Roger and Inspector Oliveira, that it looks as if wild animals had attacked her.

He assures them that it was not a sexual assault and says that the young woman bled to death...from the bite marks of at least a dozen people! Roger disagrees with the coroner's belief that it was some kind of death ritual, saying that "black masses are a thing of the past."

Betty goes back to work in her mannequin shop. She tells her assistant Nina (Veronica Llimera) that she's having trouble concentrating. Nina advises her to take a vacation...but Betty is determined to find out what actually happened to Virginia.

"Leave it alone," Nina suggests. It's obvious to Betty that her employee knows more about Berzano than she's letting on.

Roger arrives and takes note of the strange lighting caused by a neon sign on the roof. Together, he and Betty question Nina since she grew up in a village 40 miles from Berzano.

After some prodding, she tells them about a frightening legend she and the children were told when they were bad. Berzano, she says, is haunted by ancient Templar Knights who worshipped the devil and were excommunicated. According to her, they come out at night, hunting humans and drinking their blood.

At the morgue, the bizarre keeper is busy playing with a frog he has in a fishbowl. Suddenly, Virginia's body rises up and bites a chunk out of his neck.

The next day, Betty and Roger go to the library to see Professor Candal (Francisco Sanz), an authority on the Middle Ages. They want to know more about the Templars and their rituals. When told that a friend was murdered at Berzano, the professor says, "They're back? That's great!"

Cadtal opens a book to a section on the knights and says they brought treasures back from the East. In that part of the world, they also learned black magic for which they were excommunicated. The village of Berzano was the "seat of the Templar hierarchy" in the 13th century.

He goes on: "They were lords and masters of the area. Documents from their trial show that they returned from the Holy Land, bearing the cross of the Egyptian Pharaohs, symbol of eternal life. They held Satanic rituals in their quest for immortality. Meanwhile, they oppressed their serfs and tenants...and appropriated vast territories. They were both hated and feared."

A flashback shows a woman being prepared for a sacrifice. "Commence the ritual and may the blood lend us life beyond the grave," the leader tells his followers.

While tied to a huge wooden "X," the female is encircled by two knights on horseback, who repeatedly slash at her body with their swords. After being sufficiently tortured, several men approach the woman and begin sucking the blood from her wounds.

For these crimes, the Templars were tried and convicted. Their punishment was to have their bodies strung up from a tree for public display, until crows plucked out their eyes.

Betty finds the story hard to believe but Professor Candal assures her that the archives are accurate. Furthermore, he believes that the Templars have come back to life through their interest in eternal life. "The dead are waking...and although they have no eyes, they can hear their victims and continue their offerings to the God of evil," he says.

Inspector Oliveira shows up and asks Candal about his son Pedro, whom the professor hasn't seen in some time. Apparently, the boy lives near Berzano in a boat on the river Guadiana.

He's involved with a gang of smugglers and the inspector believes the group is behind the murders. "They want to scare people away from their territory," he tells Roger and Betty. He also reveals that the morgue keeper is dead.

Professor Candal proclaims Pedro's innocence, while Oliveira tells Betty to be careful because of her shop's proximity to the morgue.

Betty calls Nina to inform her that she'll be away until the next day - and gives her instructions to deliver an order to a store. Betty also tells her that they're in danger and she should lock the door, adding that she'll give her more details when she gets back.

When Nina hangs up the phone, she finds out she's not alone. She discovers a bloody morgue sheet...Virginia is there and out for blood. Although Nina is nearly bitten, she manages to set the zombie on fire and she escapes.

Betty and Roger go to see Pedro (Joseph Thelman). Interrupted during a lovemaking session with a girl named Maria (Maria Silva), the younger Candal meets with Roger...believing he may be a police officer.

Pedro denies any involvement with the murders and Roger asks the smuggler to accompany him to Berzano and help solve the mystery by spending the night there. Pedro agrees and Maria insists on going as well.

Roger brings along a gun - while Pedro arms himself with a pistol and a switchblade. That night, Pedro and Betty go off to look for evidence. They leave Roger behind with Maria, who tries to convince him that Pedro finds Betty attractive.

Roger and Maria share some rum and get cozy. They kiss but Roger's mind is clearly on Betty. They go to look for the other two as Maria continues to plant ideas in Roger's head to make him jealous. While walking, he finds Virginia's other shoe.

In the cemetery, Betty tells Pedro that she's not really interested in men. He takes the revelation as a challenge and rapes her. After he's finished, the huge church bell goes off and Betty runs away and finds Roger and Maria.

The dead become restless once again. They encircle Pedro, whose switchblade is no match for them. The Templars bite into their victim and Roger hears Pedro's screams. He fires his gun at the zombies but the sound only gets their attention and they chase after him on horseback.

In a panic, Roger pounces on the door of a room where the girls have locked themselves in. Maria does not want to open it, fearing for her life. She pulls out Pedro's gun and Betty struggles to get the weapon away from her. Betty manages to knock the gun out of her hands.

The catfight ensures that Roger doesn't get to safety in time. A Templar cuts his arm off with a sword. Betty finally opens the door and drags Roger's bloodied body in. "You'll be safe if you don't make any sound," he tells her before he dies.

Not realizing she should remain silent, Maria screams. The zombies surround her and she's killed. Betty tries to be quiet but her quickening heartbeat gives her away. She realizes this and races outside, injuring her ankle in the process. In the distance, she sees the train rolling by. She yells for it to stop and the Templars hear her.

The engineer brings the train to a halt and attempts to help Betty board the locomotive. His conductor father sees the Templars approaching and tries to hurry them up. It's too late - the knights climb onto the train and slaughter everyone on board, including a mother holding a frightened little girl in her arms.

Betty hides in the coal car and her hair turns nearly white from the experience. When the train reaches its destination, our now insane heroine is helped off by the station manager.

The unknowing passengers board the train - and Betty can hear the commotion as the carnage continues. Realizing her nightmare is not over, Betty screams and screams...

Amando de Ossorio does a superb job by pulling off one of those rarest of victories in the horror genre: he creates a new, identifiable monster with its own mythology.

Confidently pulling the proverbial rabbit out of the hat, Ossorio proceeds to imbibe his new creatures, the Templars...with a complete atmosphere, history and legacy.

From the haunting Gregorian chants that highlight the rise of the undead, to the undusted medieval horses that carry the zombies for revenge, to the loving slow motion in which Ossorio frames his beasts, Tombs of the Blind Dead stands as one of the strongest testaments the genre has to the strength of originality.

Tombs is an ominous film that culminates in one of the all-time great (and appropriately) dark conclusions that spares no one.

These zombies, with their dark, skeletel features, actually look as if they've risen from their graves. Jose Luis Campos' make-up should be commended.

Music is an integral part of any terror flick and here, Anton Garcia Abril supplies the child-like, haunting melodies heard throughout the picture. It's the perfect compliment to the story and the terrifying make-up by Campos.

Abril would continue to work with Ossario, contributing scores to the sequels, as well as 1976's When the Screaming Stops.

Lone Fleming, who played Betty, would star in the director's 1975 film The Possessed.

When Ossario died in 1996, he had not made a film since 1984's Hydra-Monster of the Deep. Tombs Of the Blind Dead and its follow-ups Return Of the Blind Dead, Horror Of the Zombies and Night Of the Death Cult, are his crowning achievements.

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